Tuesday, March 12, 2013

`Earth Is a Task Garden'

The assembly line, a sort of collective machine of humans and tools, was admirably efficient. At one end of the stainless steel table sat a reinforced plastic sack holding two-thousand pounds of white rice. Next stood young people with chrome-covered containers resembling champagne buckets. They scooped the grain and passed it along to others who poured it into transparent plastic bags and passed them in turn to others who weighed the rice sacks on digital scales. This turned out to be the only bottleneck. Each bag was to contain two pounds of rice. The scales-master added or removed rice as needed. 

Next was my twelve-year-old, the Boy Scout working on community service, who sealed the bags with a device that looks like a stapler but works with heat. I took the sealed bag from him and packed it in a cardboard box until the box held eight sacks, or sixteen pounds of rice, then pushed the box along to the next guy who sealed it with tape. The man to his right wrote “WR” (white rice) on the top of the box with a marker and stacked it on a wooden palette already loaded on a forklift. Periodically, the Houston Food Bank staff moved the load – one-hundred sixty boxes, or 2,560 pounds of white rice – elsewhere in the warehouse and returned with an empty palette. 

We wore hair nets and latex gloves. After four hours, the floor looked like the church steps after a wedding. The next youngest person in our group of fifteen was less than one-third my age. My feet hurt, and I was the only one at the table who didn’t dance (I can’t), but the kids turned what could have been tedious and oppressively goody-goody into a good time. My son said, without prompting from me, that he wants to do well in school so he doesn’t have to fill bags with rice for a living. I remembered working in a car wash, a sub shop and an aluminum-casting factory – all dirty, exhausting and great fun, at least occasionally. Chesterton says in “Oxford from Without” (All Things Considered, 1908): “It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.” 

1 comment:

Mateo R said...

The 1991 movie, Heaven Is a Playground, displays the Chesterton quote against a blue sky in the opening scene. Not a good movie, unless you're a hardcore basketball fan, but I appreciate your post--it helped me better understand the quote. Thank you.